Hsiao Shu-chen's dream is "to sell more so we don't need government
money. At this point in time, all the money Children Are Us earns supports
the bakery and restaurant operations."
As with dreams, business ventures also progress in a step-by-step fashion. With their own money, Shu-chen and other parents of mentally disabled children established an association six years ago. Three years later, they formed the Children Are Us Cultural & Education Foundation. On January 1 of this year, Children Are Us opened its Jungshan Road bakery and restaurant doors to the public, raising the total of Children Are Us stores to six with three in Kaohsiung and three in Taipei.
Shu-chen teaches chemical engineering at the Industrial College. Perhaps it is her scientific knowledge of what can happen when two compounds are mixed together that catalyzed her decision to mix business with altruism. "Mentally disabled people," she says, "are always children." However, depending on skill levels, some of the 50 "children" or employees clean tables whereas others have been trained to make a wide range of cakes and bread, all of which are prepared on site. "We make healthy whole wheat breads with seeds and fresh fruit. No oil. No sugar." I'm glad to report that the whole wheat sliced bread I took home and made a tuna salad sandwich with did not have a sweet taste. The bread roll I had was flecked with pine nuts (or pignola) and had nice body, in other words, it didn't dissolve in my mouth.
The upstairs café at the Jungshan branch is bright yet cozy with its brick walls, wooden floor and minimalist decorations. My group of about 15 women provided a logistics challenge, which might explain why some meals were barely warm when they arrived. For NT$230 the set meal we were offered included cream of corn and mushroom soup, garden salad, eel, broccoli, chicken curry or beef stew, a big mound of white rice, and juice or tea. Consistency is virtually guaranteed because the curry and stew are prepared off-site by a vendor, vacuum-packed and frozen. It would have been nice if knives had been available. As it was, I had to abandon a too-big hunk of chicken because I couldn't cut it into a size that would fit easily into my mouth. Ditto with the beef.
On the first floor you can concoct your own salads and order take-out food off the menu, which is written in Chinese. Plans are to include English translations for regular items at some later date. Pizzas, casseroles, noodles, sandwiches, soup, hot and cold drinks and . . . yes, those baked temptations are all reasonably priced.
Staff are trained one-on-one and Shu-chen has room for many more staff members to learn how to make chocolate cakes, cheesecakes, bread and oh so many more of the scrumptious-looking goodies displayed in the front window. I tried two types of chocolate cake that proved to be on a par with other locally baked cakes I've eaten. The oblong sandwich roll I tasted had a bubbly, golden skin and a yeasty flavor which says to me, "This is real bread!"
Nearly every one of the 100 seats in the second-floor café was
occupied over the lunch hour and clerks at the cash register were doing
a brisk business down on the first-floor bakery. Looks like Shu-chen's
dream will come true.
Children Are Us
253 Jungshan 1st Road, Kaohsiung
Tel: (07) 387-4095
Hours: 11 am to 2 pm; 5 pm to 8 pm
Recommended for large groups